Thursday, March 15, 2012

John Carter is a Fun Trip

It should be noted that John Carter is actually the 2nd movie to come out this year that is a first live action movie by an animation director.  The first was Mission Impossible 4 which was directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) and quite possibly the best entry to the series.  Andrew Stanton makes his live action debut to see if he can keep up the pace that Brad Bird set.  The results are not necessarily the same popcorn fun as Mission Impossible 4 but a still satisfying epic.

The movie starts off on the planet Mars with a voice over from the amazingly talented Willem Dafoe.  There are two rival kingdoms, Zodanga and Helium, that are in a heated struggle to take control of Mars or Barsoom as the locals call it.  Celestial humanoid creatures called Therns interrupt a battle to make a deal with the king of the Zodanga kingdom.  Essentially he's a bad guy and is now being manipulated by other bad guys.
John Carter is somehow teleported to the planet Barsoom.

After our little introduction to Barsoom we are transported back to earth where we are introduced to an archaeologist type of adventurer known as John Carter.  John is a civil war veteran and fought for the Confederate States of America.  His apparent death has come upon his nephew Ned.  Ned has inherited everything his Uncle had but the clue to his mysterious death is only left in the diary left to him.  The story really begins as John narrates the story of how he was transported to Barsoom and his adventure on Mars.

The world translated to screen by Andrew Stanton is much more fantasy then it is Science Fiction.  The science portrayed of different gravitational fields and tiny machines is quite the stretch.  Still, we have a civil war veteran on Mars.  Our imaginations at this point are so stretched who cares if there's any validity to what's being shown on screen?  The elements seem to follow it's own rules it sets so no complaints there.

The visuals here are quite beautiful. The character design is interesting and true to the book it is based on from what I understand. Andrew Stanton is a big fan of the books so it's only to be expected. I particularly liked the effects of the 9th Ray technology.
Really great action sequences albeit unrealistic.

The acting is okay. The king of Zodanga is pretty lame. He feels like a copied and pasted 2 dimensional bad guy and could have been a much more interesting character. I would have liked him more if there was something driving his “villiany” or if he was actually a nice guy that was just being deceived. The other antagonists, the Therns, are so unemotional I can't help but feel like they're supposed to be that way. Lynne Collins is lovely and interesting as the princess Dejah. Taylor Kitsch is a mixed bag. His expressions of surprise are great but I felt like he could have brought more emotional resonance to the flashbacks of John Carter's deceased wife and child.  Still, we get the feeling that John Carter has been hardened from both the civil war and the death of his family.

One of the surprising highlights of the film was definitely the film editing. Andrew Stanton really outdid himself in certain scenes to engage the viewer. Periodically we have flashbacks to John Carter's life on earth and his family before they were killed. The way these scenes are cut are both artistic and effective.

The movie does suffer from some incomprehensible story elements.  You have these Therns that are all about controlling Barsoom, want to overlook it's destruction, and then overlook the destruction of earth.  Pretty simple to follow, right?  Well mid movie there's more to it then that.  Apparently these Therns don't want Carter or his girlfriend to know about this certain technology that isn't explained fully well.  It distracts from the story and slows things down.

A lot of critics will also tell you it has uneven pacing.  I'd say that the pacing actually is pretty good the story just doesn't flow from one point to another as well as it could.  I didn't lose interest or get bored while watching this.  I did however get confused at certain parts of the story wondering how much time had passed and what not.  Still, any invested audience member willing to pay attention can look over these flaws.
John Carter was filmed in a studio in London and also in the Utah desert.
Now since this is a blog run by Mormons I'll briefly talk about content.  John Carter is PG-13.  It has a lot of swashbuckling swordsmanship violence with minimal amounts of blue blood.  (All the natives of Mars have blue blood.  John's blood is red.)  There are few wholesome innocent references to sexuality that will go over the heads of kids.  There were probably one or two minor swear words.  Some parts would be scary for little kids. Really a good and safe flick.  I'd say 10 years and up is good for this one.

Looking back, I feel like John Carter is a mediocre science fiction adventure held by impressive film editing, imaginative characters, and nostalgia. So why did I like it so much? Was it because it was imaginative? Did I find the story interesting? Really, I think it's a decent movie that brings something new to the table.  I wouldn't say it's the best movie in the world but it certainly deserves better then it's tomato score.
Consensus: John Carter is an imaginative epic that is entertaining despite being slowed down by story elements.  B-   


1 comment:

  1. I had the privilege of also watching this movie last Friday. I have to say, I really did enjoy it. The story was interesting (yet felt a bit clihé to me). The movie seemed pretty violent for a Disney movie.

    I enjoyed it, but the movie seemed to lack some kind of depth. I can think of other movies where I walk out feeling stunned by the message it was able to deliver, or totally charmed by the world that it presented. Sadly, John Carter did neither.

    I'd probably give the movie a 'B' rating. It was decent, just not awesome.